Indians in Colombia

Back in the early 1990s, when I was a university student, I spent almost 6 months living and working in rural México. One thing I learned from the people I lived with was the great pride that they have in their indigenous roots. Families proudly name their children after famous indigenous people or simply give them indigenous names -- I think just about every family has a Cuauhtemoc or Xochi or Quetzal. Unfortunately, Colombians don't really have that same love for their indigenous roots.

I was reminded of this in a recent article I read. The article featured a photographer from Bogotá, Santiago Harker, who has just recently published a coffee table book about a fishing community of Wayuu Indians -- Apalaanchi, pescadores wayuu.

In the article he states, "We are a country without memories and we do not feel pride about our indigenous origins.....We have no pride because we are ignorant. I hope more photographers and anthropologists will decide to study these communities so that the people can come to know more and develop that sense of pride."

Unfortunately, being an Indian in Colombia has never been a symbol of pride. Many a Colombian mother has been guilty of telling her children, "No seas Indio." (Don't be an Indian). This disparaging remark clearly does not promote positive feelings about a people or its culture.

In fact, there was even a time when the Catholic church kept records so that you could prove that you didn't have any Indian blood in you. We discovered this when we traced my husband's genealogy back to the 1700's. As we opened the book, the first page read: "These records are kept to prove that the persons whose names are written herein have no Moorish, Jewish, Black, or Indian blood coursing in their veins." If a relationship with an Indian did result in a child, the books often did not bother writing the name of the Indian down. We found statements like: "Eufracio, son of Maria Ayala and an Indian."

Such discoveries were painful to me and in particular to my husband. Yet, discovering such heritage produced a greater desire to learn about the history, culture, and customs of the Indians in the area where his family came from. We have discovered that the town where his family is from was once a part of an Indian Reservation, and that many Indians moved there from other places to be together. We have learned to appreciate the pottery tradition of his family. We have learned and tell our children the stories and legends of the Chibcha and know that remembering is the first step in gaining an appreciation for a people that made my husband who he is today.

If you would like to read the article with Mr. Harker, here is a link:


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